5/22/13 at U.S. Cellular Field

My second day in Chicago began like the first: crashing the Sweets & Snacks Expo and grabbing as many free samples as possible. Once again, I took lots of photos, but this time I promise to go much quicker . . .

One of the first things I saw in the convention center was the PeepsMobile:

1_peepsmobile

Here’s a photo of the staircase leading up to the expo . . .

2_staircase_to_sweets_and_snacks_expo

. . . and here’s a guy who was giving out samples of beef jerky:

3_jerky_sample_guy

Those packs were Velcro’ed to a full-body suit.

My name was misspelled on my badge . . .

4_nametag_name_misspelled

. . . but hey, it still got me inside, and that’s all that mattered.

On my way to find Neal Stewart and the other folks from BIGS Sunflower Seeds, I walked past the Charms booth . . .

5_charms

. . . and grabbed a few Blow Pops from this bin:

6_blow_pops

Then I tasted some chocolate-covered fruit at the Liberty Orchards booth . . .

7_chocolate_samples

. . . and ate a few Memories biscuits nearby:

8_memories

Cool set-up, no? Kinda looks like a jewelry store, and by the way, do you remember the company from Saudi Arabia that I mentioned in my previous entry? That’s Memories. Really good stuff.

You know what else was good? Check out these unusual flavors of Gummi Bears that I sampled in the next aisle:

9_gummi_bears

The folks at that booth must’ve appreciated my positive reaction because they handed me this:

10_gummi_frog

Here’s something I wanted no part of — Test Tube Candy:

11_test_tube_candy

Yuck! Have you ever heard of that? Or worse, tried it? I suppose I’m a hypocrite if I’m willing to eat a sour Gummi Frog, but not try Test Tube Candy. All I can say is that we all have our limits.

I needed something healthier, so I dropped by the Carolina Nut Company booth, which featured a race truck. Here I am standing beside it:

12_zack_carolina_nuts_truck

Then I caught up with Neal, who looked rather snazzy:

13_zack_and_neal_stewart

On our previous trip, his hair was much longer, and his face was scruffy, and he admitted to looking “borderline homeless.” It’s amazing how an expo can change a man.

I spent lots of time at the Thanasi Foods booth. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, that’s the company that owns BIGS Sunflower Seeds.) Here’s what my view looked like from there:

14_business_meeting_at_the_bigs_booth

In the photo above, the guy sitting on the right (on the bucket) is Justin Havlick, the founder/CEO of Thanasi. The guy on his left (also wearing red) is his older brother Erik. They ended up joining me at the White Sox game, along with a bunch of other people from BIGS.

At various times throughout the afternoon, I found myself standing beside a bin filled with BIGS sample packs . . .

15_bigs_samples

. . . so eventually I grabbed one of each flavor — original, ranch, buffalo wing, and pickle. Why not, right? I’d been helping myself to samples from every other booth, so why should BIGS be treated differently? Also, I should admit to taking a big pack of Old Bay-flavored seeds. (Soooo good!) There was an entire rack of big packs, which were not meant to be taken as samples. They were there for display purposes, but I noticed that Justin occasionally gave them to key sales people and other VIPs. Quite simply, I decided that *I* was a VIP, so I grabbed one to take back home to New York City.

Before leaving for U.S. Cellular Field, I took another walk and saw some interesting things, such as this:

16_scripture_candy

That company is called Scripture Candy, and it uses slogans such as “Reaching The World One Piece At A Time!” and “Jesus: Sweetest Name I Know.”

Just across the aisle, there was a PEZ motorcycle:

17_pez_motorcycle

Several minutes later, I stumbled upon the Chocolate Creations booth, where I saw this:

18_chocolate_shoe

Those shoes are made of chocolate.

Keep in mind that the photos you’ve seen in this entry represent a tiny fraction of what I actually experienced at the expo. The event was HUGE, and I could’ve easily spent a solid week there.

Back at the Thanasi booth, I caught up with Jenny and Krista:

19_jenny_zack_krista

Ready to see all the free samples that I got? Make sure to enlarge the photo by clicking it:

20_all_of_my_free_samples

Oh yeah, baby! Hopefully all this stuff will last me until next year’s expo. (Hey, Neal, you ARE going to invite me back, right?)

At around 4pm, Neal and I headed out with Jenny and Krista for a ride to the stadium in the BIGS van. On the way, my friend (and BIGS colleague) Bianca posted this tweet:

20a_bianca_tweet_05_22_13

Whoa.

Remember the reporter named Mike Tanier who joined me on 5/9/13 at Camden Yards? Remember the Sports On Earth story that he wrote about me that was published five days later? Well, the story about me in USA Today was *that* same story — amazing how it’s still making the rounds.

Neal and I stopped at a couple of gas stations and picked up a bunch of copies, but for some reason, the ones we found had a different cover:

20b_zack_not_on_the_cover

That really pissed me off — not only because I wasn’t on it, but because of the tiresome “there won’t be any more 300-game winners” argument. How are people THAT dumb? CC Sabathia has a good chance of winning 300, and there’ll be others down the road. It’s such a stupid argument that I won’t even bother explaining why it’s stupid.

Anyway, when I opened up the paper, I hoped there’d be a photo of me wearing BIGS gear. After all, none of this stuff would’ve been happening without BIGS, so I wanted them to get the attention they deserved. Needless to say, Neal and I were both *very* excited when we saw this:

20c_zack_on_page_3

This was the scene outside Gate 2 . . .

21_crowd_outside_gate_2

. . . and here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:

22_sunny_and_no_batting_practice_05_22_13

Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was a sunny day without batting practice — my nightmare scenario. In all fairness, it had been raining like crazy all night and into the early afternoon, but still . . . damn!

I seriously wondered if I was going to get completely shut out. Not only wasn’t there BP, but the Red Sox were nowhere in sight. That meant I might not have a chance to even go for a ball until pre-game throwing, and what if I didn’t get one then? Then I’d have to rely on getting a 3rd-out ball — something I’d failed to accomplish the night before. Would I have to catch a foul ball or try to get one from the ump after the game?

Thankfully I didn’t have to worry for long because I spotted three baseballs in the Red Sox’s bullpen. One was sitting too far out, but the others were hugging the back wall. It was the perfect situation for the glove trick. Here I am reeling in the first ball — look closely and you’ll see it in my glove:

23_zack_glove_trick_for_ball_6686

For the second ball, I had to lean out and swing my glove back a bit . . .

24_zack_lowering_glove_onto_ball6687

. . . and when I snagged it, I felt a huge sense of relief.

As for the other ball in the bullpen, I showed my string to an on-field security guard (who hadn’t seen me snag the first two) and asked if I could swing my glove out and try to get it. He chuckled and said no, but then did something that surprised me. He walked over to the bullpen bench and picked up a ball that happened to be sitting there and tossed it to me.

Around that time, I met a couple of guys who recognized me from this blog:

25_walter_zack_ryan

In the photo above, that’s Walter (age 17) on the left and Ryan (age 21) on the right. (They had never met each other, FYI.) Because there was no action on the field, we hung out and chatted for a while, and I ended up running into them several more times by the end of the night.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Justin and Erik planned to attend this game with a whole bunch of people from (and connected to) BIGS Sunflower Seeds — sales people, clients, etc. Neal had gotten a few dozen tickets, and when everyone started showing up, we met them in the Bullpen Bar, which is located beneath the right field seats. Here’s what it looked like just inside the entrance:

26_bullpen_bar_interior

One of the first people we saw was The Man himself: Justin Havlick. In case you’ve forgotten, he owns the company, so you can imagine how excited he was when Neal showed him the USA Today article. Here I am with Justin:

27_zack_and_justin_with_usa_today

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: he’s a great dude. His company is based in Boulder, Colorado, and he told me that when I visit Coors Field, I need to stay with him — and that he considers me “part of the family.” I’m not sure if I’ll take him up on it, simply because Denver and Boulder are 30 miles apart and the logistics might be tough, but I know I’ll at least drop by for a visit. Somehow, someway, I need to check out the BIGS Sunflower Seeds headquarters before the season is through.

The Bullpen Bar has an outdoor seating area that looks great for a number of reasons:

28_tables_behind_outfield_wall

Want to know how to get a table? It’s easy: just get there before other people.

During the half-hour before the game started, I schmoozed it up and posed for photos with a bunch of folks from our group:

29_zack_with_bigs_clients_and_sales_people

While that was happening, I scarfed an order of chicken tenders and then raced up to the 100 Level. I had to show my ticket just to get into the concourse . . .

30_security_checking_100_level_tickets

. . . and then it was show-time.

I *needed* to snag a game-used ball — this was my second and final game at The Cell — so I maximized my chances by moving back and forth each half-inning from dugout to dugout. This was my view from the White Sox’s side in the top of the 1st . . .

31_view_in_top_of_the_1st_inning_05_22_13

. . . and here I am behind the Red Sox’s dugout in the bottom of the frame:

32_zack_in_bottom_of_the_1st_inning_05_22_13

I was sitting on the edge of my seat because (a) I was in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out/strikeout ball from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and (b) there were two outs and two strikes on Paul Konerko.

Just one more strike! Come on!

Konerko took the following pitch, which was SO close to being called a strike. Man!

Look at my reaction:

33_zack_reacting_to_a_pitch_that_just_missed_being_called_strike_three

Konerko lined out on the next pitch to left fielder Jonny Gomes, who ended up tossing the ball to the fans at the far end of the dugout.

I seriously couldn’t catch a break.

Back on the 3rd base side for the top of the 2nd inning . . . nothing.
Back to the 1st base side for the bottom of the 2nd inning. . . nothing.

Just when I figured I had no chance, luck finally swung in my favor. I was back on the 3rd base side in the top of the 3rd when Dustin Pedroia led off and hit a foul grounder in my direction. The 159447663_RRa_BOS_361ball wasn’t hit hard, but because of the angle, 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield decided to play the carom off the dugout fence, so he started moving away from me. According to basic physics and geometry, the ball *should* have bounced off the fence and continued rolling toward the outfield, and if that had happened, Butterfield would’ve retrieved it 30 feet to my left. Fortunately, though, it hit something that caused it to bounce back toward home plate, so when Butterfield walked over to retrieve it, he ended up heading in my direction. Even though I was behind the White Sox’s dugout, I was wearing my Red Sox cap. Why? Because I was prepared for this exact scenario. I called out to him before he picked up the ball, and he seemed to give me a subtle nod. Then he grabbed it and looked at me and tossed it my way. BAM!!! I got my gamer, and in the process, I raised $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball.

Walter was sitting several sections over, so when he saw me snag it and head up the stairs to the concourse, he met me there and took my picture:

34_zack_with_ball6689

This was an important moment because it marked the halfway point in my BIGS Baseball Adventure – 15 stadiums down, 15 to go.

I spent the next few innings here:

35_view_from_left_center_05_22_13

It was a lousy spot, but every other outfield section was packed. I was hoping that Konerko or Adam Dunn or Alex Rios or Mike Napoli or David Ortiz would hit a bomb in my direction, but I had no such luck. The only good thing that happened in deep left-center was that Krista and Jenny found me:

36_krista_zack_jenny_05_22_13

Neal showed up soon after, and we all headed into foul territory in the right field corner. That’s where everyone else’s seats were.

At one point, several college-aged guys showed up and asked if they could get a photo with me. Here we are:

37_zack_photographed_with_fans_05_22_13

It turned out that they were friends with Ryan, so that’s how they recognized me.

Here’s a funny (and by funny, I mean sad, but no, it’s actually funny) photo for you:

38_sad_neal_is_sad

That’s Neal in the red cap (surrounded by other folks from BIGS). I don’t know if he was pretending to be glum, or if he was actually feeling that way — or maybe he was just focusing on the game? Regardless, it made me laugh.

I came really close to a foul ball in the 7th inning. Some lefty yanked a grounder just outside the bag that kinda hugged the wall and somehow rolled all the way out to the right field corner. I darted down to the front row and lunged over onto the warning track and missed it by four inches. GAH!!! It would’ve been nice to snag that ball in front of everyone from BIGS, but hey, it’s not *my* fault that I’m only 5-foot-11.

Late in the game, I moved here:

39_no_home_runs_landed_here

As you can see, that entire terrace was empty, and man, let me tell you, if anyone had hit a home run there, I would’ve hopped that railing in a flash. But no, of COURSE there were no home runs. (I wish everyone would stop saying that I’m lucky because I’m really not. As a matter of fact, I feel decidedly unlucky.)

After the game, which the Red Sox won, 6-2, I got my 5th ball of the day from home plate umpire Mike DiMuro. Then I hurried to the 1st base dugout as the last few Red Sox were walking off the field and got another ball from coach Arnie Beyeler.

A few minutes later, I caught up with Ryan, who had brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign:

40_zack_and_ryan_with_watching_baseball_smarter

Then I got a photo with Walter and my six baseballs:

41_walter_and_zack_with_baseballs

I ended up giving two of my baseballs away, not to kids as I usually do, but to these guys instead:

42_erik_zack_justin_with_baseballs

That’s a photo of me with Erik and Justin in the Bullpen Bar. The whole BIGS crew hung out there until the place closed.

One last thing . . .

Riley Blevins, the reporter who’d been with me the day before, did a follow-up interview with me about my second game at The Cell. I thought he might end up writing a blurb about it, but he wrote another full-length article! Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it . . .

42b_redeye_05_23_13

. . . and if you want to read the whole thing, click here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

43_the_four_balls_i_kept_05_22_13• 6 balls at this game (Four pictured here because I gave two away. The Pedroia foul ball is on the lower left. Note the mark on the logo from where he pounded it into the dirt near home plate.)

• 232 balls in 30 games this season = 7.73 balls per game.

• 69 balls in 10 lifetime games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.9 balls per game.

• 902 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 15 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, and U.S. Cellular Field

• 6,691 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)

• 27 donors for my fundraiser

• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $10.08 raised at this game

• $389.76 raised this season through my fundraiser

• $7,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs

• $29,295.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

18 Comments

Those Old bay flavored seeds sound fantastic, id love to try them. They sell Bigs seeds at dicks sporting goods but the only flavor they don’t have is old bay.

6,666+ baseballs and you’re unlucky. This guy…..
Just look at the picture of the candy again and maybe you’ll change your mind.

Krista and Jenny are yummy! :-). Glad you were able to snag a ball from Cellular, Zack.

Wanted to let you know that there’s only 1 store near me that sells BIGS seeds. It’s a small gas station and as of now, they only have sizzling bacon. Good god are they good!!! Also, my son Kyle and myself were at a New Britain Rock Cats game last Sunday and we were able to snag 3 gamers!!!! Not sure if you know, but in the minors, at least here in CT, they don’t throw out a bunch of balls….either during bp or during the game, so we were VERY excited to get 1, let alone 3!!

For starters, Congrats on snagging a “Gamer” at The Cell, and succeeding in another $500 for Pitch In For Baseball! Now, about that expo… GOOD GAWD!! Your samples alone look so darn good i instantly got hungry! Nice touch with the baseball in the upper right corner of the pic too. After beginning to read your blog and hearing about Biggs, i tried ‘em myself. They are freakin’ good!! I stay stocked up on ‘em now, and they go with me to every game i go to also. About The Cell, that ballpark looks sweet! I’m a west coaster, and I’ve been to Wrigley twice, but now The Cell has my eye for a series visit too. Sometime soon. Well… Good job and catch you on the next!

What a tough life you have Zack. A candy convention with free samples ,then , find you`re front page news in the paper , then off to a ball game to chase baseballs and schmooze with promo girls. The worst thing to happen all day–they spelt your name wrong on your id card !. We mere mortals can only grind our teeth with barely suppressed rage.

Old Bay = $$$$$$$$$$$
What sample was your favorite? Kinda looks like a place a guy could get lost at for a while..or a week. Have you had any issues with the Red Sox bullpen catcher? He just comes off as a really big jerk (I’d like to use a better word). The day I was here I had SO many bad luck breaks. I should’ve left the park with at least 9-10 balls.
- Chris
http://ballhawker.wordpress.com/

Nice job on the gamer Zack! I’ve been to the Candy Expo a couple times and it is overwhelming! Very cool you were able to go!
I’ve been looking for BIGS Seeds and found some at Sports Authority in the Chicago area; good stuff!

Talk about sugar overdose!!!!
Great snags bro
I see u get happy when the ladies show up, BIGS might probably hook u up…
-Navi from NY

MARK MCCONVILLE-
I had some with me last night at Citi Field. Too bad you weren’t there. Old Bay is a new flavor for BIGS, so I don’t think it has made it into lots of stores yet. You should tell the folks at Dick’s that you want them.

BEN WEIL-
Yeah yeah, whatever.

BRIAN-
I’m aware of the lack of toss-ups in the minors. Nicely done.

TOMMY M.-
Nice to hear that you (and so many other folks) are trying/enjoying BIGS seeds. AS for those samples . . . heh.

RAY BURTON-
Well, when you put it like THAT . . .

CHRIS-
It’s hard to pick a favorite when I’ve only eaten one percent of everything that I took. I don’t think I’ve any experience with the Red Sox bullpen catcher, but thanks. Now I know to watch out for him.

DENNIS-
Thanks! How did you end up at the expo?

NAVI-
Ha, thanks.

My question is whether or not Bigs seeds are gluten free… I’d like to try those different flavors (like dill pickle!) but I won’t be able to unless I can confirm that they’re GF. Any info from your new masters? Thanks!

Saw one of those “Biggs Seeds” buckets at the Memorial Day tourney my boy played in this weekend. I mention this solely so I can segue in to the part where I tell you he went 5 for 11 with 2BB, 7TB, 1K. Also pitched 7 innings, giving up a mere 4 ER, 6 hits, and 5 BB, notching 6Ks, bringing his WHIP down to 2.26. Team took 7th seed, but got knocked out this morning, 8-5, in the rain.

Hi Everyone… Neal from BIGS here.

All of the BIGS flavors except Salt & Vinegar are gluten free. We also make the Jim Beam seeds and the Jim Beam BBQ seeds are not gluten free either.

Thanks for all of the great support on the BIGS Baseball Adventure!

I feel depressed watching those pics from the expo. I miss US candy SO MUCH! Such good stuff to eat….

Tell Jenny and Krista I say hi. Takes something like those two to make me completely ignore all that candy. Nom nom nom.

ANDREW MEEUSEN-
Looks like you got your answer.

KSLO69-
Only one gee in “BIGS,” but anyway, nice segue. You have a way with words.

NEAL-
Thanks.

PIOTR-
Yeah, well, I feel depressed after having eaten a lot of this candy. Sugar really messes with my brain. Seriously.

LEON FEINGOLD-
If I ever see them again, I will.

Zack, still using the *WHITE STRING* for the golve trick…it looks so conspicuous against those GREEN bullpen walls! You’ve got to get some *Army 550 Cord* Brother…”cammo-up” that glove trick!!!

Yeah, but the white string looks so good in photographs!

…I guess…

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